Esther Wakeman’s professional duties are written in her job description, but her passion for service is etched in her heart.
As an administrator of a university in Thailand, she is charged with the spiritual care of 6,500 students and 800 faculty and staff. As a Christian disciple, she is called to lead individuals to a deeper walk of faith.
Wakeman, a Presbyterian mission co-worker, is vice president for spiritual and community life at Payap University in Chiang Mai. She and her 60-member staff are responsible for chapel, residential life, pastoral care and the Christian Communications Institute, a group that presents the gospel through the performing arts, including traditional Thai melodrama and dance.
Wakeman considers her administrative role an important ministry, but she also senses a call to be a spiritual mentor. “My passion is praying with people in a way that helps them bring their heart to Jesus so that he can really do deep heart change,” she explains.
One of those she has mentored is Aulasinee Praditsorn, a secretary in Payap’s divinity school. The match is an especially good fit in part because Praditsorn and her husband, Piriya, a mission pastor at First Church, Chiang Mai, eventually want to work full-time in cross-cultural mission.
While mentoring Praditsorn, Wakeman listened to her talk about her mother, who had abandoned her at a young age. “Through healing prayer, Jesus was able to bring real comfort and security in her memories of that hurt,” Wakeman says.
As a couple, the Praditsorns have for several years met with Wakeman and her husband, retired mission worker Rob Collins, for encouragement.
The Praditsorns “are passionate about sharing God’s love and want to work with people in neighboring countries, Vietnam, Burma and China,” Wakeman says.
Wakeman enjoys guiding individuals into more devoted discipleship. “It is a great gift to me,” she says. “It’s something God is allowing me to focus on more and more.”
Campus life at Payap, founded in 1974 as Thailand’s first Christian university, is also influenced by Wakeman and her staff in broader and more organized ways. They have helped develop cell groups of staff that meet regularly to pray and to share with one another. They also plan required chapel programs that respectfully convey Christian values to a student body that is largely Buddhist.
“Year after year a small but steady stream of students and staff choose to follow Jesus, and many who don’t openly follow appreciate being prayed for and express belief in God,” Wakeman says. “Others begin a relationship after graduation when real life presents challenges they admit they cannot handle alone.”
Wakeman notes that Payap, which is highly regarded for its academic programs, has helped the Christian faith gain respect in a country where fewer than 1 percent of the people are Christian. The university also has prepared church leaders and taught Christian values to students who now hold leadership roles in Thai society, she says, adding, “The values of the kingdom of Jesus have come into focus through the school.”